• Athena
    2.2k


    Let's see if I can tackle these ones together. Right up there with DNA is identifying the shape of the skull and the hand and footprints. I am thrilled by the explanations archeologist give for their discoveries of these things and related artifacts, such a as chipped stone, signs of a controlled fire, etc.. That kind of goes with
    Since we are immersed in history,Angelo Cannata
    . There are times we conclude something is the sign of humans because of what we believe we know of the history of our development. We have determined there were different species of humans, with different characteristics, and drawing that line between a human and the more ape-like animal we evolved from is an interesting prospect.

    I am not sure about language being a determinating factor? Our language and bird languages share commonalities. And back to Angelo's concern what is that history? Sumerians did not have a language for classification that is essential to our sciences. The consciousness we have today is very different from past consciousness, and this is right up there with my concern that we can be human and not be every intelligent. All this thinking comes out of thinking about education. How should we prepare children for life? My intended goal is to break through assumptions that might be a problem when making education decisions.
  • Athena
    2.2k
    I've never explored this question in depth as I suspect it is largely a product of perspective and I'm not sure it is of significant use to me. I generally hold that humans are clever animals who use language to manage their environment. Most humans seem to require social contact and some form of validation and emotional comfort and an experience of love (however that looks for them). How do we develop our characteristics? Not sure it matters to me. In talking to people who have suicidal ideation, the most common themes (apart form traumatic histories) are that they feel isolated, misunderstood and devalued by family/friends/society. Seems to me human desire to connect meaningfully with others and how successful we are in achieving this, tends to determine whether we are content or resentful.Tom Storm

    Having a good notion of what a human is, and how they come to be as they are, is essential to education and the society it manifests. The language of the Bible and the language of science will manifest very different civilizations. Back in the day, women stayed home to care for the family and their domestic language and mental patterns were very different from the language and mental patterns of college graduates. We classify things and concepts, so we can be conscious of the things and the concepts and then manifest the civilization we value through conscious effort.

    Not all people seek love. For many, what is most important is the power to get what they want. That power to get what we want is more apt to get us what we want than "love". Social status may be more fundamentally important than love? I am glad you made me aware of this in the context of this thread.

    "devalued by family/friends/society" My concern is our education for technology has greatly increased the problem of feeling devalued and the violent outbreak of suicides and mass murders that we are experiencing today. Thank you for participating in this thread.
  • Athena
    2.2k
    But in the spirit of sportsmanshipL'éléphant

    I do not think any other animals can have a notion of spirits.

    You all have made this thread everything I hoped it would be and more. :heart:
  • 180 Proof
    9.8k
    I think creativity, especially in the use of language, is an essential aspect of human being/human nature.Xtrix
    :up:
  • skyblack
    545
    Re couple of posts in previous page:

    When quibbling has become a habit then all discourses become quibbling. Which obviously doesn’t even come close to a collaborative dialogue.

    While acknowledging the fact that ‘western philosophy’ has become nothing but ‘essentially’ an expression of quibbling, each trying to defend their ‘beliefs’, one cannot help but recognize the fact that philosophy essentially is a love for wisdom as defined by the so called ‘founding’ fathers. (Rather silly when one recognizes the love for wisdom is as old as the beginnings of humanity and existed even before the Greeks developed their alphabets).

    Naturally, a superficial discourse with little or no interest for the fact of the matter (which we may also call truth of the matter) will indeed be nothing but quibbling, especially when these so called ‘discourses’ are covert vehement defenses of one’s beliefs and affiliations, one’s lifelong investments. The box one lives in.

    But if the fact of the matter/truth of the matter, along with a love for wisdom, is of any importance, than one cannot be biased to the accident without looking at the essence. The entire thing is looked into, as it should. Course this implies (requisite) one is already free from the box, which is perhaps a tall order considering the state of so called ‘humans’. It seems they would rather quibble and do anything possible to be secure in their box.

    However, if at some point they succeed in breaking the box (Ha!) and are able to walk out from the illusory safety of “linguistic definitions”, or shall we say their House of Cards, then they will realize that every real problem is solved by living, not by definitions. In fact continuous living has no room for problems, it is entirely expression. Every problem so far is an incapacity for life. So to get out of this defensive quibbling linguistic box is the initial challenge, eh.
  • skyblack
    545
    I think we can safely say any disregard or avoidance of the "essence" is an attempt to keep "the box" secure.
  • Athena
    2.2k
    ↪Athena
    You have asked an interesting question and it is fairly difficult because people vary so much. However, there may be some underlying aspects of human nature, or essential aspects of motivation. Maslow speaks of the hierarchy of needs which begin from physical to the social ones with the need for self-actualization as the highest ones. All these aspects may be linked to what a human being may become.

    Part of the issue of what is essential to being human is the way in which life circumstances can bring out so many different aspects and education may be about cultivating the best possibilities. There is the question of nature and nurture as a questionable area with genetic determinants but what happens in early life may be extremely influential, as stressed by the child psychologists, including John Bowlby. The role of trauma may have a critical effects on core development of personality.

    The process of becoming is a life long art, and what happens at any stage can either make or break a person. However, it may be that working on oneself, in spite of difficult life experiences, as the idea of 'the examined life's may be about reflection on the narrative of experience, as an important process of being human in a consciously aware way. This conscious awareness can be about becoming a person in a unique sense.
    Jack Cummins

    As always, your thinking is compatible with mine, which is always so surprising to me because we are so different! Why does so much of our thinking appear to be the same? Our life circumstances are very different.

    Yes, I am concerned about lifelong learning and I totally believe, in the past, education for citizenship in the US was about lifelong learning. Voters are supposed to learn so they can figure out the best reasoning and base their votes on the best reasoning for what is good for the nation, not want is good for them personally at the moment. Democracy comes out of philosophy and the belief that humans can learn and live by reason. The pursuit of happiness means gaining knowledge. As you said "The process of becoming is a life long art," Our democracies are not worth defending without that understanding.

    "the idea of 'the examined life's maybe about reflection on the narrative of experience," This is the wonderful benefit of having long-lived people. When we are young we need to fill ourselves up with life. Our later years are a time of reflection as we are full of life and wonder what the meaning of it is. We have so much to offer but in a technological society centered on money, what is best about being human, is wasted.

    We naturally pay more attention to what threatens us so "The role of trauma" can play a controlling force in our lives, but so can a loving supportive family play a controlling force in our lives. We must keep both in mind, so we know not only want to avoid but what to seek and manifest. ‎Daniel Kahneman's books about thinking are very important to our understanding of being human and how our brains work.

    Human beings can be as animals. They can be reactive and may go through life with almost zero thinking! Just because we have thoughts in our heads it doesn't mean we are thinking. Some people believe the Bible is the word of God, and others can not understand how a thinking person can believe that. How do I say this? There is a difference between holding a thought and reacting, and being a thinking person. This video clarifies the difference. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqXVAo7dVRU

    Pleasing God does not require thinking. In fact, the Bible is very clear about the wrong of wanting knowledge. Having a successful democracy does require thinking. Preparing the young to be products for industry is equal to training dogs. It is not education for thinking. At least not in the US. I think some countries are doing much better in preparing citizens to think.

    Oh dear, I want to pull this back to what this has to do with being human. :lol: Humans come in different flavors. Some of them do more thinking than others. How we are taught to think really matters, but now I am on my soap box and that isn't what I want to do. I want to know what others think.
  • Outlander
    1.5k
    Restraint? Not simply being/becoming tired, wounded, bored, or simply not being hungry as to why for example a bear would not attack another being or stop before the attack becomes fatal, but actual restraint. Something like compassion. People point to videos of animals showing "compassion" but I think it's wholly possible people are confusing true compassion with simply becoming preoccupied with curiosity and/or learned behavior along the lines of Pavlov's dogs or why treats are used for training dogs. Thoughts?

    Perhaps it's just an advanced understanding of consequences. "If I do this I might go to jail" or "people will find out and come after me", even "God might punish me", etc. I'unno. :confused:

    Edit: Beaver dams are actually pretty advanced. They're little lodges and together something like a little city. Sure not like a human city, perhaps because since it meets all their beaver needs as-is, it doesn't have to be. Despite their size, ant cities are incredibly advanced and they even practice agriculture within them. Fascinating.

    The post about "humans build cities" and all the innovations (medicine, exploring and surviving in hostile places be it a parched desert, a frozen tundra, an oxygen-deprived mountain, or space itself is unique seeing as few animals with the exception of microscopic life can "survive anywhere on Earth") would probably be my answer as well but it has a caveat attached. Animals can't perform surgery or splint a broken limb but they can lick their wounds and kill bacteria, sometimes performing medicine. They can't build a spaceship and go to space but they can explore otherwise hostile environments using objects, not a great example but a snail or similar animal that moves into a shell. These seem almost laughable to compare to human endeavors but scaled down to their needs and abilities, it works for them and frankly isn't too dissimilar.
  • Paine
    694

    I think restraint is a part of it. One has so many more options if one can slow down the reactions.
    A lot of inventing is about giving oneself more time. A situation seems impossible, and we tread water and combine ideas to see the problem a different way. Patience as a result of urgent demands.

    That aspect is a feature in parenting as a model. It goes both ways.
  • Banno
    18.6k
    Definitions are imposed, not discovered. We decide what is human and what isn't.

    The sugestions:
    having a bodyJackson
    DNAPhilosophim
    languageXtrix
    awarenessXtrix
    all pretend to be discoveries, as if being human had to be this way, and no other, but when you look closer each is an imposition. Each will rule someone in as human and someone else out - the physically disabled, the genetically divergent (non Aryan...), the non-verbal, the unconscious; and in ruling out some folk who we would otherwise call human, each fails. But further, each has political implications, each implies that we ought act one way towards some folk and another way towards others.

    One way to view this is as a failing of the idea that there are essences, that there is an indispensable quality to this or that concept. It's just not so; there need be no single quality or group of properties that rule this thing in but that thing out. This is the point behind Family Resemblance: we do not need essences in order for a word to be useful. Indeed, we commonly use words without being able to provide a rule for that use. And if you look further, you might see that this must be so; if we are ale to judge if this or that rule sets out the essence of some category, we must be able to judge wether this or that fits the category without reference to the rule.

    sets this out nicely. Asking for an essence is a way to ensure a long and fruitless thread.

    says much the same thing as I have, that definitions are "not at all be metaphysical, but will be linguistic". Hanover suggests that a moral approach is preferable. I'll go a step further and say that including ethics here is inevitable. Again, each definition has political, and hence ethical, implications. It's a shame he then goes on to posit intellect as somehow essential to being human. It might be worth asking what other characteristics are found in the human family: compassion, empathy, curiosity; and certainly @Tom Storm's "connect meaningfully with others" plays a part - we are political animals. Or @Jack Cummins's mention of the existential notion of "becoming", of growth.

    So I would make two points: The first is that any definition that claims to set out the essence of being human will be wrong. The second is that the process of defining what it is to be human is ethical and political.

    So it might be worth giving some consideration as to if one ought try to set out such an essence.
  • Tom Storm
    5k
    So I would make two points: The first is that any definition that claims to set out the essence of being human will be wrong. The second is that the process of defining what it is to be human is ethical and political.

    So it might be worth giving some consideration as to if one ought try to set out such an essence.
    Banno

    I agree with this. I do not believe there can be a definition setting out what it is to be a human and I am not an essentialist. And arguably the groups who have sought to define what is human have tended towards genocidal projects.
  • Hanover
    8.8k
    a shame he then goes on to posit intellect as somehow essential to being humanBanno

    But I didn't. I just said it's an important part of what it is to be human, and I wouldn't deny the most intellectually deficient an iota of humanity.

    I point out that it would be a terrible loss to deny someone their intellectual development, which is consistent with how we treat the most intellectually challenged. We spend tremendous energy trying to teach them whatever they're able to learn. It's why being an educator is a higher calling. You're shaping human beings.

    But should someone be entirely without any intellectual capacity at all, so much so there is nothing to advance, they too are as human as you or I.
  • Banno
    18.6k
    But I didn't.Hanover

    Ok, I withdraw. Perhaps we might agree that any categorisation of what it is to be human will fail?

    Consider Diogenes response to Plato.
  • Hanover
    8.8k
    Perhaps we might agree that any categorisation of what it is to be human will fail?Banno

    Outside of religious claims, where much has been said of the soul. A human being has a human soul, which isn't reducible to a physical attribute. Not helpful to you I realize, but that is where the conversation of human essence belongs.

    Where there is an intersection with the theists and secular humanists is the positing of humanity in a special place, the theists infusing the soul with the divine and the secular humanists making humans just as holy, but using different language.

    For something to be holy just means that it is set apart from all else, but I digress. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/05/24/what-does-the-word-holy-mean-bible-definition-of-holy/
  • Banno
    18.6k
    The soul is the beetle in the box.

    Each of us has one, but is directly familiar only with their own. They drop out of the discussion... we can't use beetles to set out what it is to be human, except to say that to be human is to have a beetle.

    So the beetle cannot answer the question "what is it to be human?" in any way that is not arbitrary. Those people over there, they say they have beetles, they talk as if they have beetles, but their boxes are empty.
  • Hanover
    8.8k
    Does this not conflate two separate questions: (1) what is a human versus (2) what is it like to be human?

    I ask because I don't hold that I obtain knowledge of my soul through private thoughts. The term "soul" obtains meaning through use like any other term. I acknowledge the soul is claimed to be known in a non-empirical, faith based way, but that doesn't make it a beetle in the box. That just means it's known through an alternative epistemological system.
  • Athena
    2.2k
    However, that said, intellectually disabled persons are not representative of being human. I suppose to put it in classical terms of essence and accident, their disability is an accident whilst their humanity is essential. I also agree with the Aristotelian classification of the human as 'rational animal', in that we're clearly descended from and related to all other species from a biological perspective, but that the ability to reason, think and speak distinguishes humans from other animals in a fundamental way.Wayfarer

    Some of the arguing in this thread is outside my interest, but I like your distinction of what is the essence of being human and what is accidental, such as a person without intellectual capabilities. It causes me to think and I appreciate your opening statement about those among us who are incapable of joining mainstream society. To what degree can they be socialized? How important is our socialization to being a human? Your thoughts bring to another.

    I am thinking of aboriginal tribes that are destroyed by invaders who radically change their way of life, leading to the end of their social structure, and leading to alcoholism, and death. We destroyed the aboriginal tribes in North America and this caused untold human suffering. The same happened in varying degrees wherever Europeans went. It seems we have traveled the world with the opinion that our social order and values are the only legitimate ones and those who are different from us are not equal to us. They are lesser humans. I hope we do some thinking about what is essential to being a human.
  • Banno
    18.6k
    Boxed beetles have a place in our language games. We can talk about their colours, form clubs for those who have an orange beetle, persecute those we believe have a black beetle.

    The term "beetle" obtains meaning through use like any other term. I acknowledge the beetle is claimed to be known in a non-empirical, faith based way, but that doesn't make it a religious faith. That just means it's known through an alternative epistemological system.

    I think the metaphor quite powerful.
  • Hanover
    8.8k
    If these words are interchangeable as you've indicated, then are we just left with our personal preferences of which to use?

    If yes, isn't greater inspiration and meaning found invoking the sacred as opposed to beetles?
  • Banno
    18.6k
    So...

    The beetle is totally other, separate, sacred, transcendent, reverend, and set apart from every created thing.What Does The Word Holy Mean?

    Hmm. So much for the sacred?

    Still seems not to help us decide what it is to be human in a way that suits 's project...
  • Athena
    2.2k
    I do not believe there can be a definition setting out what it is to be a human and I am not an essentialist. And arguably the groups who have sought to define what is human have tended towards genocidal projects.Tom Storm

    The Greeks asked impossible-to-answer questions and then set out to answer them. That is how the progress of humanity that led to the modern world began. We need to agree on the definition of words, but starting an argument about a definition will not lead to useful thinking. It is a distracting power game that I rather we avoid. My project is education and a better world. I hope this discussion leads to useful thinking.
  • Athena
    2.2k
    To know universal truth is pretty sacred to me and I have a strong preference for the secular path to knowledge and truth. Or we can ignore science and continue doing what science has told us is destroying our planet and then turn to our holy books for comfort. :brow: I often think our opinion of ourselves as intelligent creatures is highly overrated.
  • Jackson
    1.8k
    I often think our opinion of ourselves as intelligent creatures is highly overrated.Athena

    We are just on a planet. Not much more to it.
  • Banno
    18.6k
    So I guess the answer to your OP is that, given the goal of working out what we ought to do, asking what is essential to being human is counterproductive.

    Perhaps a better approach would be asking what it worthwhile in being human. Martha Nussbaum has my favourite answer at present.
  • Xtrix
    4.1k
    language
    — Xtrix
    awareness
    — Xtrix
    all pretend to be discoveries, as if being human had to be this way, and no other, but when you look closer each is an imposition.
    Banno

    It’s not a discovery, it’s just a fact. Humans have language. Pretty obvious. This is also a unique species property, and so is in the running for how to identify what makes an entity a human. Notice I don’t use the word “essence” myself.

    If this is considered an “imposition,” then any talk about differentiating one thing from another is as well. In which case, so what?

    Each will rule someone in as human and someone else out - the physically disabled, the genetically divergent (non Aryan...), the non-verbal, the unconscious; and in ruling out some folk who we would otherwise call human, each fails.Banno

    The exceptions in the aspect I mentioned (language) are rare indeed, but are themselves identified as such based on the norm. A human is still a human even if they’re non-verbal, deaf, or language-impaired. In the same way if someone can’t walk. These disabilities tell us little about human beings.

    Rules aren’t thrown out simply because exceptions exist. This again assumes we’re after some ultimate, unchanging essence — I don’t see this as being the case.

    the process of defining what it is to be human is ethical and political.Banno

    Yes. Which is why “What is a human being?” is an important question. Whether “right” or “wrong,” answers have been given — and these answers have important consequences indeed.
  • Xtrix
    4.1k
    Perhaps we might agree that any categorisation of what it is to be human will fail?Banno

    Perhaps categorization of anything whatsoever will fail. Of rocks and trees and stars and donuts.

    Is this an argument?
  • Jackson
    1.8k
    How should we prepare children for life? My intended goal is to break through assumptions that might be a problem when making education decisions.Athena

    What is the need for a definition of human in order to properly educate children?
  • Agent Smith
    7.6k
    The OP clearly demonstrates that a good definition of a human is missing - they're all either too broad (DNA) or too narrow (ability to do math, vide OP).

    Why is a DNA-based definition too broad? For reasons already mentioned by other posters.

    Why is mathematical-ability-based definition too narrow? Clearly this is an interesting question as far as I'm concerned.
  • Banno
    18.6k
    Sure, all that. But I think it remains that:

    1. There are humans who do not use language. Hence the definition leaves out some who should be included.
    2. There are language behaviours in non-humans. Hence the definition includes animals that are not human.
    3. In making the above two judgements it is clear that we can use the word "human" accurately without being able to provide the (supposedly necessary) definition.

    Hence we must conclude that we know what is and what isn't human, despite not having to hand an explicit definition.

    Perhaps categorization of anything whatsoever will fail.Xtrix
    Any explicit (ie, stipulative) categorisation will leave some things in and some out. How useful that is depends on the task in hand. If one's task is to reduce the cost of dealing with disability, it might be useful to stipulate that those without language are not human.

    Given that any posited explicit definition will leave some in and some out, it is essentially a power play and ought be treated as such.

    So I'm not doubting that "what is a human being" is an important question, but the suggestion that it be answered by stipulation, by setting out an essence.

    I do not think you would disagree with me here.
  • Xtrix
    4.1k
    1. There are humans who do not use language. Hence the definition leaves out some who should be included.Banno

    Humans that do not use language are very rare. Their existence doesn’t change that language is a human property, any more than those born blind don’t change the fact that vision is a human property. Again, I’d say that the existence of exceptions doesn’t necessitate throwing out all rules/categories.

    I mentioned language specifically because it’s a property unique to human beings. Does this property “define” human being in some absolute way? No. But it’s as close a contender as I can find.

    2. There are language behaviours in non-humans. Hence the definition includes animals that are not human.Banno

    There’s communication in animals. But no other animal has language. No animals can speak or sign, for example. So I’m not sure what you mean by language “behaviors.”

    Incidentally, species properties aren’t uncommon. So I’m not arguing we’re very special in that regard. But I think it’s just sheer confusion to ascribe language to any other animal. It’s just clearly not the case.

    So I'm not doubting that "what is a human being" is an important question, but the suggestion that it be answered by stipulation, by setting out an essence.Banno

    I don’t like “essence” either. But attempting to classify or define something doesn’t have to be mystical or religious. In fact it happens all the time in biology. We don’t kick up too much fuss about ants and frogs, yet it seems when it comes to humans we have to throw all that out. I don’t see why.

    Regardless, I think we more or less agree. The question is an important one — with real world implications — and so it should be discussed. That’s good enough for me.
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